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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

From evil twins to boyfriend cloning: Teen Creeps explores YA genre fiction—with plenty of detours

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Bestcasts asks podcasters to discuss the three most memorable episodes of their podcast. For more podcast coverage, see Podmass, The A.V. Club’s weekly roundup of the best ’casts out there.

The podcasters: Perhaps more friendships ought to start with a shared love of horror. Unlike the many popular podcasts helmed by siblings, lifelong friends, or longtime colleagues, Teen Creeps hosts Lindsay Katai and Kelly Nugent first met in early 2016, when the former was a guest on the latter’s Buffy-centric series Hellmouthy (co-hosted by Ryan Mogge). Realizing mid-episode that they were both big fans of Christopher Pike’s teen horror novels, Katai and Nugent launched a series “discussing the YA pulp fiction of their awkward, neon youth.” Now with more than 100 episodes (and a spinoff podcast to boot), Teen Creeps is a unique offering in a landscape cluttered with snark, taking care to celebrate these novels as well as scrutinize them—a mix that finds our hosts going on some of the most unforgettable tangents in podcasting history. How many of your pods send you down a veritable rabbit hole of the male anatomy?

Episode 28: Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High #100: The Evil Twin With Ryan Mogge

The A.V. Club: Why did you choose this episode?

Lindsay Katai: This was the very first Sweet Valley High book that we did. Kelly’s other podcasting partner, Ryan [Mogge], was our guest, and she’s a Sweet Valley High expert. I think it was just the combination of [Kelly and Ryan] already having a rapport, me having been on Hellmouthy twice, and our first Sweet Valley High book. It felt magical; everybody was making such good jokes, and Ryan was such a good guest.


Kelly Nugent: I had not read Sweet Valley High ever.

LK: Ever?

KN: Ever. And Ryan is very familiar with Sweet Valley High—she collects them. It was cool to have that kind of dynamic: a newbie and people that are familiar with the world of Sweet Valley.


LK: That always helps. You’re getting three completely different takes on it. [Kelly] might be like, “What the fuck is this?” and I’m going, “I know this.” And then Ryan’s like, “Let me give you the history on this.”

KN: And she pulls out six other books from the past to explain.

LK: That is a huge reason it was so funny. We’re all talking about the book that we read, but because that was a piece of a six-part storyline, Ryan’s telling us how that fit in with the other storylines, and it was so completely ridiculous that [Kelly] and I were just cracking up. The other details were so stupid.


KN: Doing a Sweet Valley book widened our idea of what our genre was. Previously we had been doing pulpy horror.

LK: We had been doing [almost all] Christopher Pike books before then. That’s why it struck us. We started the podcast because we found out on Hellmouthy that we both loved Christopher Pike’s Starlight Crystal. So we said, let’s go chronologically through Christopher Pike books, and then we’ll start doing other books.


KN: Previously, we had always had a kind of spooky horror vibe. Whereas, yes, this book had an evil twin, but the whole vibe of Sweet Valley is very soapy. That really threw us, in a good way. There’s so much more meat here.

LK: It took place in a storyline where Jessica had drugged Elizabeth because she was jealous that Elizabeth was going to win queen at Jungle Prom. Then Elizabeth crashes with Jessica’s boyfriend in the car, killing Jessica’s boyfriend. Then she goes on a murder trial. And the evil twin trying to kill both of them and take their lives is what brings them back together.


KN: Also, the evil twin is unrelated to any of the other girls!

LK: She just looks like them!

KN: It’s so stupid!

LK: But then, what we’re finding out from Ryan the whole time is that, because each book isn’t just about the murder trial, the other characters are having the dumbest fucking experiences. One of the characters goes on a dating show called Hunks. Sweet Valley, what are you doing?


KN: Sweet Valley is crazier than Shadyside [from R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series]. It’s the craziest world. For protagonists, your options are the most boring drip of a human or a sociopath.

LK: Jessica, after having roofied Elizabeth, which killed her boyfriend—

KN: After all that happened, [Jessica] tried to steal Elizabeth’s new boyfriend. And then while she was doing that, a way to win his affections was to pretend to feel sad about the old boyfriend dying.


LK: And then tell Elizabeth’s boyfriend that Elizabeth didn’t love him anymore, and then date Elizabeth’s boyfriend while she’s on trial for murdering Jessica’s boyfriend. Us talking about this right now is the perfect example of why this ended up being one of our favorite episodes, because it’s like, “What? Wait—what? And also what?”

KN: The guy who went on Hunks was too informal, because he wore flip-flops.


LK: Because of how crazy that book was, the jokes we were making off of it were heightened, too, so it just felt extra fun.

KN: Those books also take themselves pretty seriously. Sometimes, R.L. Stine is winking at us, whereas the ghostwriters of these books are like, “I gotta get this fucking writing done.”


LK: The ghostwriters were way into making it as crazy as possible, with characters that she didn’t create. So it’s almost like playing with dolls.

AVC: Your recall of the details of these books is astounding. You read this book well over a year ago.


LK: You can’t forget that.

KN: You never forget.

Episode 51: R.L. Stine’s Cheerleaders: The Third Evil

AVC: Why did you choose the Third Evil, when you have read the Cheerleaders books one through four? 


LK: I know exactly why. It’s because of Kelly’s long story about her aunt. That’s why it’s one of my favorite episodes of all time.

KN: Auntie Soufflé. [Editor’s note: This is a code name developed in episode 51 to protect the innocent.]


LK: That’s a piece of the podcast that’s really important: us finding things out about the other person. I love this episode because it’s all about finding out about this insane aunt.

KN: It’s weird, because it was something I never even thought to tell anyone about. There’s so much to unpack with her. But because you were trapped in a room with me, I could go down the line of all these things about her.


LK: You told that story because I kept asking you for more details. Please never stop talking about this aunt.

KN: When you grow up with it, you’re just like, “Oh, that’s just the aunt that will, like, really quietly come up behind you and start rubbing your shoulders or braiding your hair.” God, she’s so weird.


LK: Everybody has weird family members, but it’s the specifics of Auntie Soufflé.

KN: She’s an interesting character. She’s a very nice person. She’s just like tissue paper. Clingy and delicate.


LK: I said of an aunt of mine that she’s like if Sandra Bullock were made out of porcelain.

KN: Auntie Soufflé is if ambrosia salad was made out of Saran Wrap. Too sweet, and soft, and so white.


LK: Super white. A white-ass food.

KN: You know what she is? She’s ambrosia salad that’s made out of Saran Wrap that’s been sitting on the picnic table for an hour, and the sun is starting to turn it. So she’s sweet, but she will turn in a second.


AVC: I assume you got positive listener feedback about this massive digression.

KN: People loved it. I felt safe sharing that story with Lindsay.

LK: It’s maybe our best digression. That, or our confessions about our teenage fantasies.


AVC: The non sequiturs really take on a life of their own, parallel to the subject matter.

LK: And in such an unexpected way.

KN: The Cheerleaders series was such a pleasant surprise to us, too, so we were in good spirits.


LK: It was a fun book to talk about, and that just led to such a good digression about something from Kelly’s life. I really like when we digress into our lives, be it funny or sad.

AVC: It’s interesting that you started the show with a specific conceit, but not as lifelong friends who have always talked about these books together. It offers listeners more of a seat at the conversation than if you were already BFFs speaking in inside jokes.


LK: Yeah, instead, it was sort of like everybody was around for the inside jokes from the beginning.

KN: Everyone’s learning at the same time.

LK: I really want an Auntie Soufflé shirt.

KN: I’ll buy one for my aunt—I’m just kidding. Her bones would collapse under the weight of the T-shirt. She’s a black hole of information, constantly confounding.


Christopher Pike’s The Starlight Crystal

LK: This was our first official episode with Forever Dog Productions.

AVC: It almost feels like Act II. You take a minute at the beginning of this episode to take stock, looking back at what the podcast has been up to until now. This is also a book that you said you had always meant to cover.


KN: We thought it’d be great to line it up with our official launch [under Forever Dog], because this is the book that brought our show into being. From the second we started our show, I couldn’t wait until we covered this book—and also being scared. What if it doesn’t hold up? Some of the books didn’t. But it was great.

AVC: Why wait from your launch in 2016 until 2018 to cover it?

LK: When we went to Feral Audio [in March 2017], we decided to stop doing only Christopher Pike, because people kept asking us to do other books.


KN: We were going chronologically through Christopher Pike’s work, so Starlight Crystal was going to be toward the end anyway. And then we didn’t want to do all the Christopher Pike books.

LK: We wanted to stave the end off and extend how many more Christopher Pike episodes we had left so that we didn’t blow it all. And he has listened to the podcast, and recommended it to people.


KN: That was humbling and awesome. And that book had always stuck out in my mind. I remember where I was when I was reading it for the first time. Where I was sitting, what the carpet felt like under my ankles. And I remember being very disturbed by the book, because it is disturbing, when you think about the deaths that occur.

LK: It’s not a light read.

KN: And it certainly changed my outlook on what fiction could be as a kid. I didn’t understand why I felt that way. It was like, “Oh, something can be like this! This is cool.”


LK: Christopher Pike books, and especially this book, I read in my formative years, and I was formed by it.

KN: And also, we had another digression. This was a digression that the people were begging for. Anyone reading this book would want to know.


LK: They must have been reading it going, “How did Paige clone Tem? By sticking a very large needle in a penis?”

KN: And also, where does the sperm stay?

LK: Sticking a needle inside a penis. As one does when you need to clone someone.


KN: To go into the balls—from the penis? I don’t think so.

LK: That’s not what it was! There’s a urethra, and then there’s—

KN: There’s a vas deferens.

LK: This is the episode where Kelly and I discovered we have no idea how penises work. We know that they do work, but we do not know how it happens.


KN: Basically, if people wanted to know visually what was happening during this episode, both Lindsay and I had cross-sections of the whole male anatomy pulled up on our phones, and we’re frowning at it, furrow-browed, and saying, “But wait, what is that?” [At this point, Katai and Nugent pull out their phones, pull up cross-sections of the male anatomy, and begin frowning at them.]


LK: And I still don’t remember. What is it?

KN: The sperm doesn’t stay in the balls.

LK: Men have a urethra, and we only have a urethra.

KN: Vas deferens.

LK: They have a vas deferens.

AVC: ...Seminal vesicles? 

KN: Seminal vesicles!

LK: Maybe?

KN: And the sperm is produced somewhere else, and then it goes in the balls. If you cut open a ball, a bunch of sperm’s not going to fall out.


LK: No, that’s where it’s made! In the testicles!

KN: That’s where it’s made, but that’s not where it’s stored.

LK: It isn’t?

KN: I don’t think so.

LK: I always just think of it like ovaries, which are just there. So in my mind, sperm is just there.


KN: [Googling.] Where… is… sperm… stored.

AVC: Doesn’t sperm constantly die?

LK: So it couldn’t just be sitting—no, but it has to—what?

KN: The epididymis is where they’re stored.

LK: What? That’s the testicle. Is that the testicle?

KN: Lindsay.

AVC: This must be more research than Christopher Pike did when he wrote this cloning scene. 


KN: Yes! Because then we learned that if you’re taking DNA from someone to clone them, you just need, like, their hair.

[Both pause to read from their phones.]

LK: Yeah—okay, yeah. The testicle contains the epididymis.

KN: When a man, um, experiences his moment, do you know what it’s called?

LK: Orgasm.

KN: “Ejaculation proper.” [Laughter.]

LK: As opposed to ejaculation minor?

KN: Listen, the male anatomy is a mystery.

LK: So—so the epididymis is connected to the vas deferens. And then it loops—

KN: The vas deferens’ nickname is “ductus.”

LK: So there’s a seminal vesicle, and it starts behind the bladder.

KN: That makes the sperm.

LK: That is the vas deferens. It goes down into the testicle, which is—

KN: Why even go in the testicle? Why doesn’t it just go out the penis?

LK: And then there’s an epididymis. But it’s not showing where it comes out—

KN: The penis! Look, there’s an arrow coming out.

LK: I still don’t—oh! Well, I’m looking at this [diagram]—

KN: See, my [diagram] is fully erect. [Laughter.] Yours is sleeping.

LK: Does it wait to go there until it’s erect? I don’t remember!

KN: Okay. Sperm are moved from the testes to the epididymis to the beginning of the urethra, through the penis, and then in ejaculation proper, the semen is shot out.


LK: Where does the prostate come into play?

KN: That’s for butt stuff.

LK: No, look, there’s a little cord. The urethra comes out from the prostate.

KN: No, I think that’s just behind it. It’s not attached.

LK: So this is what the episode was. [Laughter.]

KN: In [Starlight Crystal], she’s cloning a guy she loves.

LK: To then carry to term herself.

KN: And it’s very vague wording.

LK: She got him drunk. He’s passed out.

KN: While he’s passed out, she’s like, “I took a needle and grabbed some sex material,” or something. “Sex cells.”


LK: Or his “sex,” as in his member.

KN: And then she uses that to clone him. So the whole time we were like, “Where is this needle going?”


LK: It sounded like she inserted the needle into his urethra.

KN: She’s pushing it through like Albert Fish.

LK: Paige, you don’t have to do that.

KN: Just pull his hair out. You can take anything with DNA. Skin cells, hair follicles.


LK: So then, Christopher Pike, why was this a part of the book? So this is why we went off on this insane penis tangent.

KN: Remember when Dolly the sheep was cloned? Everyone was crazy about cloning.

AVC: It was the same year that Starlight Crystal came out, 1996. 

KN: So maybe people didn’t know a ton about cloning. He might have been like, “You probably need the sex cells; let’s do that.”


LK: Ugh, I’m really going to fuck up my cloning this afternoon.

KN: You’re going to have a real nightmare.

AVC: Do you think Christopher Pike listened to your penis episode? 

LK: I know he did, because I sent it to him, and he gave us feedback. He didn’t mention the penis thing, though.


KN: He probably fast-forwarded. “Why. Why are they doing this… Still happening.”

LK: He told us that he thought we were a little hard on the book. And then I freaked out, because I thought he hated us. He was like, “No, no, I think you guys are great.”


KN: He just thought we didn’t get it.

LK: It was more that he thought we were hard on Paige. We were questioning things she did, like, “Hey, Paige, why did you create that genocidal race?” And Pike was like, “Because it had to be.” It was an allegory, not a full plot—which is why we like the book so much.


KN: It’s like a dream.

AVC: Starlight Crystal held up as a book you loved then and now. Are you scared that you’re going to encounter a book that you really loved, but it falls apart on a reread?


LK: I think that happened. Was it Invitation To The Game?

KN: Oh, yeah. That was real boring, and I loved it as a kid. There was also a book where I had not seen the internalized misogyny.


LK: That’s probably at least 50 episodes. But all the ones I’m super emotionally attached to were Christopher Pike books. His first book, Slumber Party, was not exactly misogynistic, but the women were being so awful to other women. We were shocked, remembering his later stuff where it’s all very forward-thinking with strong female characters. In this one, which was his first, the main character was selling out her friend, even though her friend had just almost been raped.

KN: The attempted rapist ended up being a hero, and that sucked.

LK: I’m not afraid of getting to a book and having my whole childhood fall apart, because of the general nature and quality of these books. But certainly it’s been realization after realization of, “Oh, I was raised on this bullshit. How did I process that into my opinion of myself and others?”


KN: You and I are both pretty introspective. So we don’t have an attitude like, “Ugh, don’t ruin this fandom for me!” We’re not nerd gatekeepers.

LK: We don’t have toxic fandom, like, “No, everything we liked was good and everything now is bad!” We’re critiquing the books and deciding what we think about them: How does this read now in 2018, in terms of feminism?


KN: How does this portray, or not even portray, people of color?

LK: That’s been a big thing with so many of these.

AVC: What have you enjoyed most about doing this show? 

LK: Finding out how fun it is to talk about these things with Kelly. There was zero guarantee that we would even get along on a long-term basis, so to find that we were so like-minded, even if we’re interpreting things differently, has been really awesome.


As far as the podcast going forward, I just want to keep doing it, keep making sure we do good episodes, and get cool guests who also appreciate the books. As far as doing something more with the podcast, I want to figure out how to do live shows.

LK: It’s a really unusual way to get to know someone, but a really good way.

KN: It forces you to talk without stopping, and it’s watched without feeling watched. Also, something that I’ve loved is our community of listeners. We’ve created a show that I’m really proud of, and I want to keep making the kind of show that I would want to listen to, and take it cool places.


LK: People are going to find it who like these books, and we’re not concerned about people who don’t.

KN: I’d also be down to do some dirt cons. Tiny, weird cons in, like, Utah.